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Alchemist In Hollywood, The (Part I)

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Alchemist In Hollywood, The (Part I)


Published 1940


Explains chemical processes used in the motion picture laboratory. Diagrams and demonstrations of exposure, photochemical reactions, development, and printing. Photographer: Shirley Burden. Sound Recording: Bernard B. Brown.


Run time 14:35
Producer Atkinson (Ralph B.) & Solow (Sidney Paul)
Sponsor American Chemical Society
Audio/Visual Sd, B&W

Shotlist

"This film was designed to show the chemical end of the motion picture industry. The commentator, with the aid of diagrams, explains the photographic process. Diagrammatic drawings of silver-bromide crystals are shown and we are told of the chemical reaction that occurs when light falls upon them. There are experiments illustrating what occurs when the crystals are given exposures of different intensities and how they receive and store the latent image. The following sequence deals with the different chemicals used in the formation of the developer, and the fixing bath. A comparison is drawn between the "dark room" operations of the old days and the new, modernly equipped laboratories. The film closes showing a positive print being made from a negative." (California)
Ken Smith sez: This film ostensibly tells the story of Hollywood's film processing labs, but it's really just an attempt by lab geeks to show that their profession is just as exciting as a movie star's. "The alchemist makes entertainment out of silver!" proclaims one of two high-pitched, similar-sounding, nerdy narrators (Ralph Atkinson? Sid Solow?) as he reads the script mechanically; you can actually hear him turning the pages. These first few minutes are filled with much talk of "movie stars" and shots of theater marquees. Then the narrators apologize for the upcoming "rather technical language" and begin a 20 minute discussion of "photoconductance," "thermal agitation" and "the sensitivity speck" while type-on-paper graphics fill the screen. A series of lab demonstrations come next, in which we see a hand repeatedly dip strips of 16mm film into flasks of chemicals. "One of the most important characteristics of processing solutions is their pH value," narrator #1 explains. "Since film densities vary directly as a logarithm of exposures, it is possible to plot a curve which is valuable as a means of control!" Next, we're taken for a behind-the-scenes peek at a Hollywood film developing lab. "Automatic precision control is the keynote of the modern laboratory," boasts narrator #2 while we see shots of giant dials and pipes, big machines with lots of sprocket wheels, and studious employees wearing white lab coats. "In a modern laboratory, quality is not left to HUMAN judgment -- but is controlled by scientific methods!" "The alchemist in Hollywood has found the Philosopher's Stone in a tiny crystal of silver bromide," either narrator #1 or #2 reminds us. "With billions of these crystals, he converts these lifeless rolls of motion picture film into the golden miracle of romance, education, entertainment!"



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Reviews

Reviewer: bjsreg - - May 21, 2013
Subject: just a few comments....
Narrator #2 in part I is Sidney P. Solow at about age 30. He had been transferred to CFI Hollywood from Fort Lee, NJ and was 29 years old at the time this film was made. He became chief chemist and later President of CFI and taught a very popular laboratory techniques course at USC film school for many years.
He most probably wrote the script for this film and the reading/page turning was just to make sure nothing was forgotten.
Yes, this is very dry, but full of information. Sid was always happy to share his wealth of knowledge with young film makers.
I believe that narrator #1 is Ralph B. Atkinson.
Reviewer: uniQ - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 17, 2011
Subject: Specialized appreciation
If you have a chemical or film background, this will mean something. If not, it's likely to be a half hour wasted. Since I have one of those backgrounds, I found it interesting and informative.

Having said that, the production could have been better, even for 1940. Most importantly, there were some points (such as the AgBr crystal exposure) that had excessive pauses. I'm going to assume that was for the students to take notes.

My rating is based on my enjoyment of it. For "general" audiences it would be something close to a 2.
Reviewer: Michael Pereckas - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 13, 2004
Subject: maybe chemists like it more
I actually rather liked it. I assume the target audience of this American Chemical Society production was probably chemistry students, and so maybe as a chemist myself I'm closer to the intended audience. The narration is amazingly bad, and there is a section at the beginning where they seem to have forgotten that this is a *motion* picture, and thus rather than an amazingly overcomplex chart that doesn't change accompanied by somewhat confusing narration, maybe a series of charts would work better.

I thought the film developing experiments in the beakers was very good and is still of interest today, since black and white film developing has not changed. I'm sure a modern movie film lab looks rather different from the 1940s version, plus everything is in color now, but it is certainly of historical interest. Speaking of history, they don't use carbon tetrachloride to clean film anymore, that's for sure. How times have changed.
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - favoritefavorite - July 2, 2003
Subject: The Alchemist in Hollywood (Full Film)
Hollywood film processors try to show us how exciting their career is by making the most boring film ever. They start by writing a script that tells us in excruciating detail the exact chemical processes of film development. They hire boring narrators to carefully and slowly read the script word-for-word (at one point, you actually hear one of them turning the pages!). They illustrate this science lecture with such exciting visuals as plain title cards with chemical formulas on them, disembodied hands mixing things in beakers, and bored-looking technicians doing their jobs with grim determination. Isn't Hollywood an amazing land of dreams?
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: **.
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavorite - December 17, 2002
Subject: Fascinatingly Cheap
This film, which details how film is made, starts out with an amazingly boring chemistry lesson, slowly becomes slightly interesting to the end.
First starting off with flimsy opening credits (The American Chemical Society badly needs a new logo) the film credits Shirley Burden, curiously, as doing most of thje pghotography. Most? As the narration starts, it sounds like it's done though an echo chamber and sounds hopelessly snooty. Oh they seem to know their way around a chemistry lab though, as 15 minutes go by discussing film emulsion chemistry. Most of it is very convuluted. Try to follow the 8 step chart to how a film is developed. If you think that's bad, the remaining 10 minutes are worse. It's very puzzling to figure out WHO this film was made for, as it seems to glamorize hollywood and film processes, yet totally bogs it down with scientific mumbo-jumbo. The second part picks up a bit though, with actual demonstrations. Best line "If the film is not ready yet, dunk dunk it goes". The narration in the 2nd part is what increases the film from a 1 star rating to a 2 star. The narrator, still in the echo chamber, is OBVIOUSLY reading from a script.. why? You can heard him turning the pages! As well, he fumbles some words, and yet they just keep going! At one point, the Narrator says "For the purposes of this film, we will not talk about sound". Which says it all.
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